I have always loved growing flowers in containers around my home, but I have to admit that I sometimes lose my enthusiasm at this point in the year. Autumn, winter and spring containers are so easy to care for and pack so much impact into their display. In summer, however, when the rest of the garden is full and overflowing with blooms I often find that my containers can look a bit lack lustre. When you add the daily watering regime and regular feeding I sometimes feel the containers can be more of a burden than a pleasure.
This summer I have made some changes. Instead of the usual bedding plants from the garden centre I decided to concentrate on drought resistant plantings that will be easy to swap around as the seasons change. I wanted to avoid anything wishy washy and concentrate on high impact flowers that will shout summer whenever I step outside (whatever the weather).
Hibiscus are one of my all time late summer favourite shrubs – they remind me of holidays in exotic locations. The beautiful trumpet shaped flowers that appear in August and September are a late treat in an English garden. I inherited a couple of hibiscus plants in the garden which were struggling to thrive, so last autumn I dug these up and placed them in large individual pots. They are now spending the summer outside the kitchen door on the sun baked south facing terrace and seem to love their new conditions. They have provided rich greenery for a few months now and are just coming into flower. Hopefully the late flowering season will last well into September, after which I will move these pots to a sheltered corner for the winter and replace them with an evergreen show of potted viburnum bushes for the winter months. In the spring a hard prune back into the old wood and a good feed with rose food should ensure lots more beautiful flowers for next summer.
Another showy summer flower that I love is the agapanthus, also known as the African lily. I have a habit of buying blue and white agapanthus bulbs in January when the dry bulbs can be acquired quite cheaply. I plant the bulbs individually in black plastic pots to grow on in my cold frames. I have been unsure what to do with this growing collection and have had mixed success with transferring the plants to permanent positions in the border. This year I had an inspired idea – rather than looking for a permanent home perhaps I could just move the plastic pots into my garden containers for their flowering period.
After the tulips finished flowering in mid May I removed the old bulbs from my containers and filled quite a few with my plastic pots of agapanthus. A topping of compost hid the rims of the pots and the new leaves gave an instant architectural feel to my containers throughout June, with the addition of the stunning flowers throughout July. They are just about to go over, so I have rushed to capture their beauty on camera to remind myself of this success for next year.
To provide a succession of blooms I have lots more black plastic pots waiting in the wings, which were filled with acidanthera bulbs in June. These tall, elegant white flowers should bloom later in August and hopefully last into October. As the agapanthus go over I plan to remove the pots and return them to my cold frames for the winter and replace them with the pots of acidanthera for a cool white planting scheme to take my containers well into the autumn.
Acidanthera are not hardy, so the corms need to be lifted and stored throughout the winter or disposed of and stock replaced in spring. As the corms are quite cheap I take the replacement option to ensure that the flowers are of the best quality. This year, however, I think I will try storing the pots of acidanthera under the greenhouse staging for the winter and see what happens next year. I will buy some new stock as well, just in case the results are disappointing.
Agapanthus, on the other hand, are very expensive so I make sure to treat these well. I keep the pots well watered until the plants go dormant and store them in a cold frame throughout winter to protect the pots from the elements. The plants should increase in size as the years go by, giving me more flowers from each pot to look forward to.
By mid October, when the acidanthera go over, the cycle will start again as I plant tulips and other spring bulbs for next year deep in the pots, with cyclamen, pansies and evergreens on top for a display that should last throughout the winter months.
My smaller pots on the garden tables are filled with french marigolds. Always cheerful these have lasted with a minimum of watering since early May and should keep going until autumn when they will be replaced with hyacinth bulbs and winter pansies.
I do still have a few pots of annual summer bedding, as well as quite a few potted hydrangeas and blueberries which need a lot of watering. I also have a number of potted camellias at the front of the house which need attention during this very dry weather. Overall, however, I am sure that my watering workload has decreased this summer and I was able to go away on holiday knowing that my pots would cope with a reduced watering regime in my absence. Also, by using agapanthus and acidanthera in this way, the cost of purchasing annual bedding plants has reduced without reducing the impact of the summer containers. In fact I think my summer containers have looked better than ever this season.
If you have any labour saving techniques with your summer containers or tips on keeping them looking good, please do share them!